By G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Jayaprakash Narayan, born in a rural family in Bihar, was an active participant in the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi. Having received his education in India and the United States, JP, as he affectionately came to be known, was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Karl Marx, and the ideals of equality, and freedom from exploitation and poverty, apart from the goal of political independence became the guiding stars of his life. Jayaprakash Narayan’s ideology, with the passing of the years evolved to transcend the mere freedom of India and embrace the “freedom of man everywhere and from every sort of trammel – above all, freedom of the spirit .”
Jayaprakash Narayan participated in the freedom movement, and was influenced by the tallest leaders of that time, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and the close bond he formed with them played a major role in the development of his political ideology. He joined the Indian National Congress and served as secretary in the newly formed Labor Department of the organization in 1929. He also participated actively in the Civil Disobedience movement, and after the arrest of the top Congress leaders, he became General Secretary of the Party in 1932, and built up an underground organization to spread and propagate the movement throughout the country. This led to his arrest and imprisonment.
Jayaprakash Narayan felt that along with the prime objective of national independence, socialism needed to be ushered into India, and with this object in mind, he formulated the idea of organizing a socialist party which would function within the broad framework of the nationalist movement, in order that a larger number of workers and peasants be drawn into the freedom struggle. Thus, JP formed the Congress Socialist Party in 1934, along with other notable leaders like Narendra Deva, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, Yusuf Meherally, Ram Manohar Lohia and others. Though each of these leaders followed a different ideal of socialism, Jayaprakash Narayan and Narendra Deva ensured the adoption of Marxism as the party’s ideology.
The Quit-India Movement was launched under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership in 1942, and Jayaprakash Narayan led it from the forefront, after the Congress’ major leaders were arrested.
Jayaprakash Narayan also played an important part in national integration after independence. His interest in resolving the communal problem in India arose before independence itself, and he tried his best to make people understand that proper way of dealing with communalism was not to see how many seats each community commanded in the national legislatures, but to focus on the real social and economic problems which faced the country and the masses. In the communal tensions which followed the partition of the country, JP worked tirelessly to establish peace and bring about unity.
By the time India achieved independence, JP was committed to the ideology of Democratic Socialism, and sought to guide the Congress Socialist Party, of which he had been acknowledged the leader, on the lines of this philosophy. Though initially a defender of physical force, JP was won over to Gandhiji’s ideas like satyagraha and ahimsa. After independence and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders like Narendra Deva and Basawon Singh, led the Congress Socialist Party out of the Indian National Congress, and formed the Socialist Party, later to be called the Praja Socialist Party, which emerged as the principal opposition party in states like Bihar and U.P.
Jayaprakash Narayan was deeply disappointed with the practical experience of Nehruvian Socialism in India, and in 1954, he dedicated himself to Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement to distribute land to the downtrodden and exploited masses, and the ideal of Sarvodaya. In 1957, JP formally severed himself from the Praja socialist Party in order to promote ‘lokniti’ (politics of the people) as opposed to ‘Rajniti’ (politics of the state). His goal was to evolve lokniti in a non-partisan manner to build a consensus-based, classless, participatory democracy which he termed Sarvodaya. This ideology may be called ‘Gandhian Socialism’, and JP became an important national figure as its prime proponent. In 1974, he participated in the peasant struggle in Bihar, known as the Bihar movement which demanded the resignation of the state government. He was also instrumental in setting up ‘Citizens for Democracy’ in 1974 and the ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ in 1976, Non Governmental Organizations aimed at fighting for and upholding democracy and civil liberties.
Jayaprakash Narayan is probably remembered the most in connection with his role in the run up to, and after the imposition of ‘Emergency’ in the country. In 1975, the Allahabad High Court, on an election petition filed by Raj Narain, found the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, guilty of corrupt electoral practices, and set aside her election to the Lok Sabha. The leaders of the opposition, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, called for Mrs. Gandhi’s resignation, and called for a nation wide movement to press for their demand. Jayaprakash Narayan gave the call for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ or ‘total revolution’ to bring about social change in the country against the perceived authoritative regime of the Congress Party. Thus threatened, an insecure Indira Gandhi, took the desperate step of advising the President to proclaim a state of ‘national emergency’ under Art. 352(1) of the Constitution, citing an alleged ‘threat to national security of the country due to internal disturbances. The proclamation was issued on 26th June 1975, a black day in the history of India’s democracy. Opposition leaders and social activists in large measure were arrested by the government and imprisoned, and censorship was imposed on the press in order to suppress dissent. Jayaprakash Narayan was amongst those imprisoned, and he was detained at Chandigarh, and released months later. Following the widespread agitation and opposition to the imposition of the emergency, Indira Gandhi had to revoke it in 1977. Soon after, elections were announced. The opposition parties united under JP’s leadership and guidance to form the Janata Party, with marked socialist leanings, and contested the elections against the Congress. The people’s frustration and displeasure regarding the emergency found voice in an overwhelming and ignominious defeat for Smt. Gandhi and the Congress, and the Janata Party became the first non-Congress political party to rule at the centre. Jayaprakash Narayan did not participate in the Janata government, but provided moral support and guidance to it, playing the role of elder statesman. Around this time, JP was suffering from kidney failure and had to undergo dialysis regularly. In 1979, this great son of India breathed his last, triggering a wave of national mourning in India. JP’s contribution to India and Indian political and social development is immeasurable, and his whole life was a sacrifice at the altar of Mother India’s progress, welfare and upliftment. Jayaprakash Narayan’s life as a mission, is best described in a poem penned by him, while in hospital in 1975:
“What the world calls failures,
Were the stages in the Quest.
Those stages were innumerable,
The destination too is far off.
I do not have to stop anywhere,
Whatever the road-blocks on the way.
I have no ambition for myself
Everything is dedicated to God,
So I am satisfied with my failures.
And this unsuccessful life
Will be blessed a hundred times
If for the dear young fellow-seekers
It makes the thorny path a bit easy ”.